Arsenal’s dominance over Watford at The Emirates yesterday should have seen us ‘home and hosed’ with half an hour to spare, but in the end we endured some nervous late moments before claiming the three points.
There were plenty of pluses: the unbeaten run now stretches to 10 games in the Premier League and Carabao Cup; we kept another clean sheet; Ainsley Maitland-Niles had a good game filling in for the injured Thomas Partey and most of our players put in a high quality shift.
But a nagging concern over our ability to take our chances when they come continues to haunt this team and potentially threatens to derail the good work Mikel Arteta has been doing since the disastrous start to the season.
The win moved us up to fifth in the table, six points behind the leaders, Chelsea, and only three points off second place. But if you rearranged the table simply by the metric of “goals scored” we would be in 10th place behind the likes of Everton, Palace and Villa.
Obviously the figures are skewed by the fact we failed to score at all in the opening three league games, and it’s good that our new defensive solidity means we do not have to keep scoring large numbers of goals to win games, but there’s no doubt we could be more efficient in front of goal.
Yesterday, for example, we missed another penalty and we had other opportunities that a more clinical team would have put away.
The chief culprit was the captain, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang. I don’t want to be too hard on him because – for one thing – his seven goals in 10 games so far this season is hardly a poor return.
However, he should have definitely added one (and more likely two) to his tally against Watford. The missed penalty was a poor effort and follows on from his equally poor penalty against Aston Villa. In the latter case he was able to spare his blushes by knocking in the rebound, but there was no such luck yesterday.
It’s clear to me that Auba should not be taking the pens, particularly when Lacazette is on the pitch. Across his career Aubameyang has scored 30 penalties and missed 11 – a successful conversion rate of 73%. Lacazette, by comparison, has scored 30 from the spot and missed three – a conversion rate of 91%.
Surely it’s a no-brainer to let the Frenchman step up and take the spot kicks from now on? I hope El Patron has sufficient cojones to lay down the law with his captain in regard to this issue.
The other chance for an Auba goal yesterday came early on in an incident where we got the ball in the net courtesy of Saka, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.
Maitland-Niles pulled some great moves around the edge of the Watford box, culminating in a clever pass in to Lacazette. Laca got the ball across goal only for Foster, the Watford ‘keeper, to palm the ball to Auba on the edge of the six yard box. It was begging to be hit first time (or to be quickly controlled and fired home on the second touch) but Auba miscontrolled it with a contact that also meant Saka was offside when he tucked it away.
All in all it wasn’t Auba’s best day in an Arsenal shirt, but that’s the kind of striker he is – he can have seemingly poor games and still pop up with a goal at a vital moment. (He almost managed it late on yesterday when he was millimetres away from getting on the end of an Odegaard pass into the Watford penalty area). He remains the best attacker at the club and he’s exactly the sort of man you want on the pitch when we face Liverpool in our next league fixture.
Elsewhere I though the defence was excellent once again. White and Gabriel seem to really complement each other’s game and the two fullbacks were solid when called on and adventurous when opportunities arose.
There had been concern before kick off when it was apparent Thomas was not in the squad. He was rested because of a tight groin. Given his injury history with us that was a sensible call.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles came in as his replacement (getting the nod ahead of the more experienced Elneny) and had a really good game. He showed plenty of skill on the ball to create opportunities going forward but was also intelligent and disciplined about his positioning when Watford had the ball.
He created one clear chance, made 10 out of 12 successful passes in the attacking third, had two successful dribbles, made eight ball recoveries (the most of any Arsenal player) and won five out of five tackles.
This performance follows on from an excellent game against Leeds in the Carabao Cup (where I rated him as Man of the Match) and reveals a significant uptick in AMN’s trajectory. He has a real chance to make himself part of the Arsenal story this season and I hope he does so.
Saka, Laca and Smith Rowe all put in decent performances, the latter on hand to stroke home the only goal of the game and secure the points.
Finally a word about the referee. It was a tough game to handle because it was marred by countless fouls, particularly from the visitors whose plan seemed to be to break up our rhythm by whatever means they could. But how Kevin Friend allowed the ex Spud Danny Rose to avoid punishment for some awful fouls is a complete mystery. At one point, apparently, Arsenal as a whole had committed four fouls and received three yellow cards while Rose personally had committed four fouls and got away scot free.
His assault on Lacazette (that led to our penalty) would probably have been a red card incident for some refs and certainly a yellow card for most, but Rose must have naughty pictures of Kevin Friend hidden in a safe somewhere.
Now we have a long, boring international break before we resume league action against Liverpool, who were deservedly beaten yesterday by a buoyant West Ham. No doubt the Scousers will aim to bounce back strongly against us, but if they play the way did against the Irons we are more than capable of getting a result.
One pleasant side effect of the Liverpool loss – their first of the season – was that we can once again wish each other a HAPPY INVINCIBLES DAY!
Ramsdale – 7
Quiet for most of the game but had to make a couple of smart saves late on. He also nearly cost us by coming out of his goal and misjudging the ball, leaving a goalscoring opportunity for Watford’s King from a tight angle. Fortunately the ball hit the side netting.
Tomayisu – 7
Another low-fuss, no-nonsense outing from the summer singing. He has made the RB position his own and that’s that.
White – 8 (MoTM)
Excellent in defence and capable of breaking the opposition lines when he surges forward.
Gabriel – 7.5
Did nothing wrong and his physicality was needed against a physically strong Watford team.
Tavares – 7
This lad is so comfortable on the ball and also has great recovery speed when he gets into difficulties.
Lokonga – 7
As reliable in MF as we’ve come to expect. With AMN having more licence to get forward it was important that Sambi remained disciplined and that’s exactly what he did.
Maitland-Niles – 7.5
As mentioned above, another good outing for AMN.
Saka – 7.5
Always probing from the right wing, always a threat: defenders must hate seeing him with the ball at his feet. Unlucky to have his goal ruled out for offside, although it was the correct call.
Lacazette – 7
A busy, intelligent performance.
Smith Rowe – 7.5
A little quieter than he can be, but he did lots of good work and got the all important goal.
Aubameyang – 6
Missed a pen and fluffed his lines a few times, but at least he was close to getting on the end of things at times.
Odegaard – 7
Came on in the 69th minute and slotted in well, creating a couple of good opportunities.
Elneny – 7
Although he only got 10 minutes (four regulation plus six stoppage) I thought Mo really got involved and helped see us home. He had several good moments to break up Watford moves.
Martinelli – N/A
Got a three minute run out.